Bayshore Roundhouse: Part One

The railroad between San Francisco and San Jose was completed in January 1864, but the northernmost section was not the direct route Caltrain travels today. Instead trains ran over the hills west of San Bruno Mountain through Colma, Daly City and the Mission District. Extra "helper" engines were required to pull trains to the top of this grade in Daly City. It was common at that time to see as many as three engines pulling a train through the residential neighborhoods of San Francisco's Mission District.

A faster route would be built, but not for forty years. Railroad financier E. H. Harriman acquired control of the Southern Pacific in 1901, and initiated many improvements. By the beginning of the 20th century, San Francisco had grown into a vibrant center of industrial production and shipping. Harriman wanted to bypass the troublesome line into San Francisco, and had a new route surveyed to the east of San Bruno Mountain. This new line would travel along the bay, but it would require five tunnels, extensive earthwork, and would ultimately cost a million dollars a mile.

Construction began in 1904, and the route later came to be paralleled for much of its length by U.S. 101. From San Bruno the new line was laid northeast to a tunnel at Sierra Point. From there, it continued north to Visitation Point (by the future town of Brisbane), and then along 2 mile long trestle and fill from Visitacion Point to Candlestick Point. At the foot of Visitacion Valley, wooden pilings supported two sets of tracks along the bay. Four more tunnels, fills and trestles brought the rails north through San Francisco's Bayshore and Potrero Hill districts to the terminal at Third and Townsend streets. Delayed by the Great Earthquake of 1906, the new "Bayshore Cutoff" opened for service on December 8, 1907.

The shoreline of the bay had been where Bayshore Boulevard is now. Debris from the 1906 earthquake and the Visitacion Point cut were used to fill in the marshlands west of the railroad. This reclaimed land was named Bayshore by the railroad, and new facilities, including a large switching yard, were established here to serve the railroad's growing operations on the peninsula. The roundhouse and its 90-foot turntable were completed in 1910.

The roundhouse was originally designed with 40 stalls, separated into 5 sections by intermediate walls. Only the two sections over stalls 24-32 and 33-40 were built. The dividing wall between stalls 23 and 24 became an end-wall instead. Curiously, work had stopped in the middle of building stall 23, as evidenced by a door frame and incomplete window arch, the latter of which remains to this day. The remaining stalls instead became open-air "whisker tracks."


courtesy of Ralph Domenici:

Survey team

View of bayshore from about where Geneva and Bayshore Blvd meet today, looking south-east. Note the piledriver where the roundhouse footing is being built, and the old tannery where industrial avenue is today.

One of several shots of the construction crew